The Indian Army’s significant quantity began to show in September 1914, when they were deployed to the Western Front. Many of the Muslim soldiers would eventually travel to Mesopotamia, but to do so, they completed a long journey with many stops. Among these were the troops of the 111th Indian Field Ambulance of the Lahore Division. This unit’s war diaries exemplify the difficulties that these soldiers faced.

The Indians felt both homesick and seasick, and struggled with the new, difficult weather. The diary notes their gradual recovery as the days passed aboard the H.M.H.T Castalia, on the Arabian Sea, and heading towards Aden in Yemen, before receiving instructions to continue to Marseilles. The ship was ‘so crowded’ with soldiers that, according to the unit’s diary, the Smoking Room on the Promenade deck was ‘the only place available as a Hospital’.

What’s more, on the 1st September 1914, the entry reads: ‘Saw a shark cruising round the ship this morning’.




Ata Khan, from Bombay, was a lascar, or an Indian sailor-man employed on British ships. He was on the H.M.T Kalyon troopship, which would carry thousands of soldiers, when he wrote a letter explaining his ordeals. Writing in October 1915, Khan describes how he left London to Plymouth, where 2,500 soldiers and much ammunition were boarded onto a warship. The ship headed to Dardanelles where fighting had already started. He writes that ‘shells were raining all round the ship’. When a shell struck the ship ferociously, Khan and his comrades began ‘to cry out’, thinking that they were about to die. He survived this scare, and describes how, two months later, he returned to London, and along with the other soldiers, confronted their seniors. They told them that they could not go back on the warship, and that they would like to return to Bombay. In response, the soldiers were threatened that any person who refused to enter the ship would be imprisoned for six months. ‘This frightened us’, admits Khan, who at the time of writing this letter, was aboard the ship for seven whole months.



  • NA: WO 95/3920/3, ff. 8-10.
  • BL: L/MIL/5/825/7, f. 1218, item 61.